Give Yourself the Gift of Guilt-Free Play Dates

by Lisa Rothstein on 09/06/2010

LISACAFE0001In an earlier post about The Unschedule from the book The Now Habit by Dr. Neil Fiore, I touched on the idea of “Guilt-Free Play”. This is the pre-planned recreational activity that Dr. Fiore says helps turn Procrastinators into Producers. It’s also a practice that helps create life balance even for people for whom procrastination isn’t a problem — except that they procrastinate having any fun.  A lot of us who have no trouble arranging play dates for our kids and our dogs never seem to get around to doing it for ourselves, except for the annual vacation we’re often too stressed to enjoy until it’s almost over. But regular Guilt-Free Play Dates are essential to keeping us balanced, happy, and recharged to get more done. And for DaVincis, who have multiple things we want to do, that’s even more vital.

What makes “Guilt-Free” Play Dates work?

Something to look forward to. The prospect of a life of all work and no play is enough to make anyone take guilty refuge in hours of mindless Facebook updates or re-runs of Dancing With The Stars. Scheduling Guilt-Free Play Dates into your week shows you that your life isn’t all drudgery.  It’s easier to buckle down to your writing on Monday morning when you know a fun afternoon of sports or shopping awaits you on Thursday.

Structure. When I worked for a big company, I had to show up at a certain time, make deadlines and make appearances at meetings. My track record in doing this for 18 years led me to believe that I was a responsible, organized person. It took about three days of working for myself to discover that this was patently untrue. Without the structure of an imposed schedule, I was an aimless moron who took all day to match my socks. However, when I had something in my calendar, like a meeting with one of my freelance clients, or  a lunch with an old colleague, I pulled myself together and was on track for the whole day, since I knew I didn’t have the whole day. The appointment gave the day form and structure. Let your Guilt-Free Play Dates do the same for you.

Types of restorative Guilt-Free Play Dates:

Time with friends. This can be a workout or golf date (if you schedule a whole afternoon), a lunch or simply a phone call (if you only want to schedule 30 minutes). The key is to plan it on purpose, and to anticipate savor the time with your friend. Keeping up with people who care about you and whose company you enjoy gives you instant perspective when you’re back at work on that project. And as a bonus, you’ll enjoy better life balance in your relationships and end those guilts around falling out of of touch with your pals.

Time with your talents. NOTE: this Play Date isn’t meant to accomplish anything but just to have a good time. What are all those activities related to your talents you yearn to get around to? Go ahead and make that date to sit in a cafe and sketch people, dust off that saxophone, write that country song or go out dancing. I sing in two choral groups, and rehearsals on Mondays and Thursdays are some of my favorite times of the week, even though –or perhaps because — I only sing for pleasure these days.

Time with yourself. For some of us, the best play date — and somehow the hardest one to make Guilt-Free — is a solo one. An afternoon of catching up on your favorite books, a yoga class, a walk or even a nap — what would it be like to see this on your calendar every week? Remember, it’s not selfish to plan time alone. It’s a way to recharge your batteries, regain your life balance, and appreciate everything and everyone more when you come back.

Sacred Sundays. This was an idea my husband had since we both work at home and never seemed to get around to taking time for ourselves.  Dr. Fiore requires — that’s right, requires — his clients to take one full day off a week, in addition to any other play dates. My husband and I both decided that Sundays would be our day off, and he plans something for us to do together — out of the house. We live in a beautiful area with lots of outdoor activities and natural sights, and I prefer our Sacred Sundays to include a hike, a day at the beach, an outdoor concert and picnic or some other fun activity we both want to try (last week it was speedboating!) Of course, you don’t have to do your day off on Sunday. You can have Marvellous Mondays, Terrific Tuesdays, Wonderful Wednesdays, Thankful Thursdays, etc. I like Sundays because since most other people are off too, there’s not much chance of a client hunting me down to put out a fire. Some prefer their day off on a weekday, since they don’t have to compete with the crowds at the beach or the park.  You don’t even have to make your day off the same day of the week every time. The point is, you must plan ahead and choose one day per week to simply be and enjoy.

Activity: Brainstorm a list of all the types of Guilt-Free Play Dates you would most enjoy. Remember to hit all the categories of Time with Friends, Time with your Talents and Time with Yourself. Next to each entry, note how much time you might need for each — for example, a lunch could take two hours, a hike a half day, a meditation session 45 minutes. See if you can come up with a range of different time-slots.  This will give you flexibility in planning, as some weeks will be busier than others.

Now, look at next week’s calendar. Once you’ve marked out time for stuff you know you have to do at a fixed time (sleep, that dental appointment, the weekly staff meeting) it’s  time to schedule in your Guilt-Free Play Dates. Give yourself at least two or three, and pick your day off and consider what you’ll do with it.  Important: Write these in at specific dates and times as you would any other appointment. Otherwise, you’ll keep frittering away your non-play time and then feeling compelled to postpone your fun, and the cycle of procrastination and imbalance keeps a-turning.

Try this for a few weeks and see how much more balanced — and productive — you feel! You’ll also be easier to live with. (Just ask my husband.)

What’s your favorite Guilt-Free Play Date? Share your ideas with your fellow DaVincis below! (Bonus: if you have a blog of your own, our “commentluv” feature will automatically add a link to your most recent post to your comment. )

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